For many churches, children’s ministry will hopefully regather this fall after children have been worshipping and growing in their discipleship at home after an extended time away. As children’s ministries welcome children back to the church building (whenever that takes place), things may look and sound differently for them.
Preschoolers and young children may experience new levels of separation anxiety. Parents may experience a similar kind of anxiety as they leave their children in the care of the church for the first time in a long time. Increased sanitation, smaller groups, social distancing and masks may be the norm.
What can churches do to help preschoolers and children with the transition back to church? We can let them play with purpose.
Play is a great way to help children re-engage with you and your classroom. Play eases anxiety and is a great way to uncover or reset emotion. It is a bridge to building or re-establishing relationships with other children and with you, the teacher. It opens up the door to conversation about fears and worries because it is child-initiated and led.
Play is a great way to teach. Memories are formed when activity and emotion work together to imprint information in the brain. How can you as the teacher plan for opportunities for children to play and enjoy what you want them to remember? Drama, role play, conversations during crafts, and playing with play dough, blocks or other manipulatives can all be opportunities to use play to reinforce what you have taught in large group time through the imagination of a child.
Play allows children to process life experiences in a safe and honest way.
Children in your ministry may have experienced the job loss and financial concerns of family members, illness or death from COVID-19, lost opportunities to celebrate important milestones or other emotional losses during their time away from church gatherings. Play allows children to process life experiences in a safe and honest way. Home living, art, drama and other creative endeavors give children an opportunity to relive and gain understanding of what has happened recently. It gives them an opportunity to ask and answer questions about what they may see on the evening news.
As leaders plan for opportunities for play, difficulties with social distancing and the need for adjustments for sanitation may arise. It may mean creating large game boards that a group can play at a distance or creating designated arts and crafts bags for each child that contain, markers, scissors, art pieces, play dough, pencils and paper that they use each week. It may mean limiting numbers in activity centers or even in classrooms. With some creativity and work, play can still happen in your classroom.
It is easy to hand each child a coloring sheet and a few markers to fill the time until parents arrive to pick up their children, but is this truly play with a purpose? Challenge yourself as a leader to think through what can be taught effectively through modified activities. Thoughtful planning offers opportunities for movement and imagination throughout the teaching session.
Take a hard look at the “stuff” in your room. Is everything you see really necessary? Can you free up space for play by purging extraneous materials or objects with porous surfaces that cannot be easily sanitized? Is there a plan for cleaning throughout the session so that children can enjoy the entire space for play?
Plan for play. Join in the play with a mindset of joy. You and the children in your ministry will be blessed and enriched as you play as you go.